What Dreams Are Made of: Long Way North

This film is part of the 2016 New York International Children’s Film Festival

One person’s dreamer is another’s fool. The quest to achieve the seemingly impossible frequently rubs up against the harsh reality and possibility of failure, and what results can end up inspiring some and serving as a grave warning to others. Long Way North, a French-Danish animated film directed by Rémi Chayé, follows a young Russian girl named Sasha who holds onto her missing (and presumed dead) grandfather’s dream to reach the North Pole, in spite of her parents’ desire for her to act like a proper young girl of nobility.

The term “family film” can be a kind of backhanded compliment, implying that it’s something almost innocuous in its presentation. However, Long Way North deserves the term in the best sense possible because of how well it speaks to the aspirations and concerns of both parents and children. Sasha is a heroine who won’t let go of the spirit of adventure instilled in her by her grandfather who also puts in the hard work to fulfill those desires. In doing so, and it continuously realizing her limitations while working to overcome them, Sasha’s journey feels empowering and encouraging. Her parents, who are more concerned with whether Sasha will throw away her “childish” views, can come across as overbearing or failing to understand what gives Sasha life. However, the film also presents her parents as wanting only the best for their children and families, which is a message that resonates with older audiences, and provides an opportunity for parents and children alike to discuss the conflict of dreams and reality.

Nothing works out easily in Long Way North, from treacherous voyages through arctic waters to stubborn personalities to people going nearly insane from the prospect of starvation, but Sasha and by extension the film never give up hope.

There’s no limit to how much can be said about the visual presentation of this film. With appealing character designs built off of flat swathes of color mixed with an intentionally rough, textural line work, it reminds me somewhat of a George Seurat painting. The art style works especially well when depicting the arctic north because of the large, imposing glaciers on all sides.

The animation, even when it takes shortcuts, never feels cheap, and always conveys scale, depth, and the powerful emotions of its characters. From the imposing yet warm figure of Sasha’s grandfather to the stern, yet honorable ship captain to Sasha’s expressive eyes, Long Way North makes its characters feel all too human all to relatable no matter who they are.

Long Way North is an inspiring tale for children and adults alike. It might also be the best film I saw at the New York International Children’s Film Festival. Long Way North is getting a wider release soon, and I recommend that you check it out and see if it doesn’t help you consider how you view your own dreams.

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